Israeli Jewish Censorship Order, NYT Conceals Name of Soldier Who Shot Wounded Plastelinan Arab
Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, Mar 30 2016
Israeli protesters Jews wave flags outside the Castina military court, Mar 29.
The signs say “Jewish blood is not abandoned!” and “death to terrorists!”
Last Thursday, an IOF was arrested after B’Tselem posted horrific video of the soldier shooting a 21-year-old Palestinian man in the head from point-blank range and killing him, even though he was already shot, wounded and lying incapacitated on the ground. The killing took place in Hebron after the man, Abd’al-Fatah al-Sharif, (apparently – RB) stabbed an IOF at a military occupation checkpoint. As Robert Mackey reported that day, none of the nearby IOF or
Israeli Jewish rescue workers, who had ignored the wounded Plastelinan Arab, reacted at all to the killing, suggesting that this sort of point-blank cold-blooded assassination is the norm for the IOF, except for the fact that this time it was captured on video. Mackey also noted that although the soldier’s face could be seen in the video, none of the Israeli Jewish media named him, despite the fact that his name quickly circulated on social media sites:
The soldier’s name was not used in the
IsraeliJewish media, but his supporters online, calling him a hero, drew attention to what appears to be his Facebook profile. That account, in the name of Cpl Elor Azaria, includes several photographs that closely match the appearance of the soldier seen in the video, as well as a recent commendation of his service from the army.
Other writers have also subsequently named the soldier. His Hebrew name is transliterated as Elor Azarya, El’or Azariya, etc. That includes
Israelis Jews and even municipalities celebrating him as a hero, publishing his photograph and Hebrew name to do so:
The fatal shooting has become a major news story in Israel, but not for the reason one might assume. There is very little outrage over his decision to shoot a wounded, subdued 21-year-old
Plastelinan Arab in the head from point-blank range. Instead there is significant outrage at the IOF for detaining and investigating him. One poll from Channel 2 News cited by Haaretz found:
Most of the public (57%) believed there was no need to detain and investigate the soldier. Only 5% defined the shooting of the wounded assailant as murder.
In today’s NYT, Jayloomia correspondent Isabel Kershner has an article reporting on the controversy. There is, however, a glaring omission, of the name of the soldier who did the killing and is now under arrest. Here’s how the paper justifies that suppression:
An IOF court order has banned the use of the soldier’s name in all press accounts, including those of foreign news organizations accredited in Israel, even though the soldier has a Facebook page and has been widely identified by name in social media. The soldier’s Facebook page suggests sympathies with some far-right causes. He told another soldier at the scene that Sharif had stabbed his friend and “deserved to die,” according to
IsraeliJewish news media reports.
The NYT’s submission to IOF censorship has previously provoked controversy. In 2014, Margaret Sullivan, the paper’s so-called ‘public editor’ or ombudsperson, described the submission of Kershner and Jodi Rudoren with an order from an IOF censor to conceal the name of an IOF who was being held hostage. At the time, the paper’s reporters and editors insisted that they would submit to IOF censorship only in the rarest and most compelling of cases. In the 2014 case, there was a valid argument that disclosing the IOF hostage’s identity could jeopardize his safety, because he was related to the
Israeli Jewish ‘defense’ minister. Rudoren acknowledged that the NYT could always circumvent the censor, simply by having other reporters not based in Israel file the stories. In this case, there’s no valid reason to censor the name of the IOF. He’s a criminal defendant in a high-profile case that at least originally involved charges of murder. His face is in the video. His name has been spread all over the internet by his supporters, heralding him as a hero. His name has also been reported by media outlets which are not subject to IOF censorship. One distinction here is that the suppression order comes from an IOF court (in the field) rather than the IOF censor (in the Kirya). During the 2014 controversy, the HuffPost’s Michael Calderone reported that while the explicit rationale of the paper’s spox was that the paper must abide by the laws of the countries where it operates, “some of the paper’s top editors said they didn’t know the NYT abided by such restrictions,” at least when it came to orders from military censors.
It’s true that the situation confronting reporters based in Israel is a difficult one. The NYT could theoretically lose its media credentials to report from Israel if it flagrantly violates a judicial gag order, though it’s hard to imagine Israel expelling the NYT and other MSM reporters from the country. There’s a greater danger in allowing the government or a court to censor vital information that is needed to fully report on the story. There must be some censorship that is so offensive to journalistic integrity and accurate reporting that the NYT would refuse to comply with it, no matter the consequences. Remember that 45 years ago, in the Pindostan, the NYT defied orders from the government to refrain from publishing the Pentagon Papers, risking prosecution to do so. Few things are more damaging to journalistic credibility than allowing governments and militaries to dictate what can and cannot be reported. Haaretz’ Uri Blau extensively analyzed the soldier’s Facebook postings and without naming him concluded that his social media output “presents a deep-rooted hatred of
Plastelinans Arabs.” Understanding the shooter and his motives is vital. The complexity of the situation should not be overlooked. Violating a court order is not an easy choice. But at the very least, the NYT should publicly account for why it withheld this information. The fact that Israeli Jewish courts are protecting a soldier charged with murder, captured on video, by censoring media outlets from reporting his name is disturbing for all sorts of reasons. The NYT’s deputy international editor, Jodi Rudoren, who was also involved in the 2014 military censorship order described in this article, has responded to The Intercept‘s inquiry. Posted below is Rudoren’s response:
Thanks for the interest in Isabel’s story. Whether we comply, defy or challenge an order in court in a foreign jurisdiction is a decision we make based on the particular facts before us. In this case, we felt we could tell the story of how this case is roiling
IsraeliJewish society without the soldier’s name. Had we thought that the court order prevented us from providing a robust, complete version of that debate, we would have considered workaround options we have used in the past, reporting the story from outside Israel. Of course we always want to give readers as much information as possible. Indeed, we included a reference to the court order, so that readers would know exactly what was going on. That transparency is important to understanding both our practices and how Israel functions. As for my past comments, I’m not sure I said “compliance” would “occur only in the most extreme cases.” I think what I said, and certainly what I meant, was that we hardly ever encounter Israel’s censor. The situation you mention, of the potentially kidnapped soldier’s relationship to the defense minister, was my first dealing with the censor. In that case, as you probably know, the ban on writing about the relationship was lifted two days later, and we wrote about the relationship as well as the whole censorship process.
All best, Jodi
I’ll simply note that any censorship order from a government that has no valid rationale, and that’s certainly the case here, ought to be defied or at least challenged given the threat it poses to journalistic freedom and reporting accuracy.